Topic:Word Origins

I've been a fan of Lexicon Valley, Slate's podcast about language, since it began a couple of years ago, and so I was honored when Mike Vuolo, who hosts the show with Bob Garfield, asked if I'd like to be featured regularly on it. Together, we decided on a format that would be fun for us, as well as, we hope, the listeners: I would come prepared with a mystery word, and Mike and Bob would have to guess the word itself and its origins. Continue reading...
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When you visit your bank's website or enter a credit-card number, you've probably noticed that in the browser's address box, the URL begins with https. The "S" stands for "secure," and the security technology your browser uses for that "S" represents one of the great inventions in the history of secrets. In this piece I'll walk you through some of the terms of that rich field. Continue reading...
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Long before the advent of air conditioning, ice cream, sherbet, and their frozen cousins provided edible relief for summer heat — if you were rich enough to afford them. Today, these icy treats are democratic and diverse, and their names, both generic and trademarked, tell rich stories about language and history. Here are some of the tastiest. Continue reading...
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If Argentina had prevailed against Germany in yesterday's World Cup final, you couldn't really have called it an upset. Germany had dominated during the past weeks of World Cup play, but Argentina had gone in as a strong contender. It was a hard fought game decided by a single goal scored in extra time. Neither an upset nor its opposite. Which brings up an interesting vocabulary question: What would a word for the opposite of an upset be? Do we have one in English? Continue reading...
TOPICS: Word Origins
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Grammar Girl, a.k.a. Mignon Fogarty, has been sharing short tips on usage and style with us. Her latest tip looks at the evolution of affirmative interjections, from yea and yes in Old English to yeah and yup in contemporary English. Continue reading...
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Just in time for the 4th of July, our own Ben Zimmer investigates how the term "Yank" started off as a term of disparagement but was reclaimed as an expression of patriotic pride in settings from world wars to the World Cup. Continue reading...
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I am guessing that the average electrician doesn't realize how much history is knocking about in his or her toolbox. Volt, amp, ohm, watt—these electrical units are all eponyms, derived from the names of pioneers in the field. Let's have a tour. Continue reading...
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